As the temperature in Arizona's Valley of the Sun soared to record-breaking triple digits last week, we headed northeast of Phoenix to Show Low on the Mogollon (pronounced Muggy-on) Rim. The Rim is a ridge of limestone and sandstone cliffs that rise to about 8,000 feet and form the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Extensive Ponderosa pine forests make it an excellent place to see species of birds not found in the low desert. While daytime temperatures in the mid to high 80s may still sound hot to some, the refreshing morning air and gentle afternoon breezes offered a pleasant reprieve from the oppressive heat of home.
That got me to thinking. It's easy for us to retreat inside or escape to cooler climates, but what about wild birds that don’t have the luxury of air-conditioning? How do birds stay cool, anyway?
When summer temperatures soar, birds employ some clever tactics to beat the heat. They pant like dogs to move air across the moist surfaces of their lungs, throat and mouth, and the evaporation of this moisture absorbs heat from their bodies. They fluff their feathers and hold their wings out so that air can reach their skin and carry away some of their body heat. And, like us, birds are most active in the mornings when the air is cooler, rest in the afternoons and wade in shallow water to cool off. We witnessed many of these behaviors during our five lovely days at Fool Hollow Lake State Park - including a bird that appeared to be swimming - while trying to stay cool ourselves.
With our campsite nearly at water's edge, we had front row seats to daily performances by a variety of entertainers. We joined in the avian version of a coffee klatch with a flock of about 50 Canada Geese who greeted us each morning, gossiping and dining bottoms up on aquatic plants. Each evening we enjoyed happy hour with a bunch of boisterous, rowdy Pinyon Jays, who descended by the dozens into the tops of trees above our campsite. I found a Cassin's Kingbird nest nearby and marveled at the two chicks that went from nestlings to fledglings in a matter of days. Their constant back-and-forth chatter provided background music to our days. Violet-green Swallows flashed brightly against the cloudless blue sky as they darted about, snatching insects out of thin air like a Las Vegas magician. A pair of Osprey dove for fish, majestically rising out of the water with 18-20" small-mouthed bass grasped in their powerful talons. Everywhere were birds of various colors, singing from the treetops, playing tag, dining on juniper berries and seeds. Each day I saw something new and was awed by the infinite variety of birds and wildlife around us. Here's a sampling of the things I saw (click on an image to open the slide show):